Photo: Sandra and Frank Horvath/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus

Easier to see than most owls, the Short-ear lives in open terrain, such as prairies and marshes. It is often active during daylight, especially in the evening. When hunting it flies low over the fields, with buoyant, floppy wingbeats, looking rather like a giant moth. Aside from its North American range, it also nests in South America and Eurasia, and on many oceanic islands, including Hawaii.
Conservation status Has disappeared from many southern areas where it formerly nested. Loss of habitat is probably the main cause.
Family Owls
Habitat Prairies, marshes, dunes, tundra. Found in open country supporting high numbers of small rodents. Nests most commonly on tundra, inland and coastal prairies, extensive marshes, farmland. In winter also found in stubble fields, small meadows, coastal dunes, shrubby areas.
Easier to see than most owls, the Short-ear lives in open terrain, such as prairies and marshes. It is often active during daylight, especially in the evening. When hunting it flies low over the fields, with buoyant, floppy wingbeats, looking rather like a giant moth. Aside from its North American range, it also nests in South America and Eurasia, and on many oceanic islands, including Hawaii.
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Feeding Behavior

Hunts by flying low over the ground, often hovering before dropping on prey. Reportedly finds prey mostly by sound but also by sight. May hunt by day, especially in far north, but mostly active at dawn and dusk.


Eggs

3-11, usually 6-8. White, becoming stained in nest. Incubation is apparently by female only, 24-37 days. Male brings food to female during incubation period. Young: Male brings food for young, gives it to female, who actually feeds the young (and broods them in cold weather). If nest is threatened, adults may fly at intruder and make loud wing-clap, or sit on ground with feathers ruffed up, wings spread and tilted forward, to look as large as possible. Young may leave nest on foot after 12-18 days, can fly at 27-36 days.


Young

Male brings food for young, gives it to female, who actually feeds the young (and broods them in cold weather). If nest is threatened, adults may fly at intruder and make loud wing-clap, or sit on ground with feathers ruffed up, wings spread and tilted forward, to look as large as possible. Young may leave nest on foot after 12-18 days, can fly at 27-36 days.

Diet

Mostly rodents. Feeds mainly on voles, also other rodents such as lemmings, deer mice, pocket mice. Also eats shrews, rabbits, gophers; rarely bats, muskrats. Eats birds, especially in coastal regions.


Nesting

In courtship, male spirals up into the air, hovers while giving series of short rapid hoots, then dives, clapping the wings together loudly under its body. Nest site is on dry ground, often on a raised hummock or ridge, especially in marshy country. Usually among tall grass or under a shrub. Very rarely above ground. Nest (built by female) is a depression in soil, lined with grass and feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Northern birds are strongly migratory. Also somewhat nomadic, concentrating where there are temporary high populations of rodents.

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Migration

Northern birds are strongly migratory. Also somewhat nomadic, concentrating where there are temporary high populations of rodents.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Usually silent; on nesting grounds, a variety of barks, hisses, and squeals.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Short-eared Owl

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Short-eared Owl

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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